Misadventure on the Chattooga River

Upon reading this post and talking with Cameron about his hike along the Chattooga River, Rhonda and I decided it would be perfect for our next camping trip too. The weather was finally cooling after a long, humid southern summer and we were itching to get back out into nature. Unlike our last hiking and camping trip, Callie and her constantly wagging tail was coming along for this one. In preparation for a long hike, Callie’s daily walks got longer in an effort to get her accustomed to the extra exercise. We also used these walks to get her comfortable with a new hiking pack of her own.

We embarked on the four-hour road trip with lighter packs than last time. Mine weighed in at a svelte 31 pounds, while Rhonda’s was a downright feathery 25 pounds. I like REI’s site for lots of good info, such as pack weights. Rhonda did a great job of cutting out the unnecessary and calculating our caloric needs each day. The packs were stuffed full of calorie dense and tasty foods to keep us going for three solid days.

 Upon arrival at the parking area for the trail, we were greeted with great fanfare from the bagpipe player. Huh? Unbeknownst to us, this trailhead was nearing the end of a day hike for charity. It was after 3pm, and the hikers had begun the almost 30-mile hike well before sunrise. The bagpipe player was stationed here to cheer on the weary walkers. We briefly chatted with the support team there and offered ibuprofen to a hiker in obvious discomfort as we made our final preparations. Bags packed, boots laced up, Callie’s tail wagging, and with walking sticks in hand we set off. We stopped a few times early on to let the passing charity walkers pet Callie. It seemed to perk them up quite a bit to see a happy dog after walking all day. She was happy to assist.

Our goal was to get 5-7 miles in before setting up camp. Cameron’s post mentioned that there were several great camping spots along the trail. He wasn’t wrong. We passed some decent ones only a couple miles in but they weren’t near the river. The hope was to find some prime real estate next to the Chattooga. The trail was well marked and only moderately difficult in a few places. It was a beautiful day to hike with temperatures in the 70s and lows forecast to be around 50. As the sun began its descent to the horizon we were on the lookout for our home for the night. We found an awesome campsite only to find a tent already there. Rats. Then we found another one, except there were multiple tents on this one. A few minutes and another occupied campsite later, we worried that we’d have to share a spot with strangers. It wouldn’t be a huge negative, but it definitely wasn’t our preference.

Rhonda and I conferred about what to do. It was nearing 6pm and we wanted to have camp set up before the sun set at around 7:30. Callie sat patiently during the conference. I knew she was tired from the walk, but she still seemed eager to explore the new surroundings. A decision was made to keep going forward and see what turned up. If no good campsite was found by 6:30, we would turn around and find a place to share. The boldness paid off, as we found an excellent site only minutes later. A great sandy spot about 15 feet from the river was a perfect place for the tent. After the tent was put up and furnished with air mattresses and sleeping bags, we took a break to climb out on the rocks in the river where we sat and ate peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches.

Our home for the evening

Before long, I set off to collect firewood. Rhonda stayed behind to unpack our food and get a fire started with some twigs. Rhonda discovered an excellent means of starting a fire. As I found my way back to camp with an armful of fallen sticks, I was pleased to see a little fire crackling in the rock-ringed pit.

After dinner (and after being attacked by hordes of daddy long leg spiders) we adjourned to our two-person (and 1 dog) tent. It was still warm enough outside to make the sleeping bags unnecessary so we drifted to sleep lying on top of them with the river adding a soothing backdrop. As the nighttime chill rolled in, we each crawled into a bag and Callie snuggled up as close as she could to the back of my legs.

And then the skies opened up. The forecast called for only a minimal chance of rain. This was no light drizzling either. It poured for hours. Our Coleman tent held up admirably, with only a trace amount of water finding its way in. Our packs were damp and thankfully we had dry clothes sealed in plastic bags. But, since it was still pouring, we elected to wear the clothes we had worn the previous day (which meant I had to wear the t-shirt that had caught fire – don’t ask) and save the dry clothes for the drive home. With no reason to believe the heavy rain was going to end soon, we decided to trek back to the car and end the trip early. Callie was probably the unhappiest she had been in her life. The poor girl was unsuccessfully trying to find a place not getting poured on. She eventually gave up and sat beneath a tree looking pathetic.

What a sad, wet dog looks like

The hike back was uneventful and the rain calmed down to a drizzle after an hour. The dry clothes felt absolutely glorious when we got them on and plopped into the car. Our trip only totaled about 13 miles out of the proposed 25, but we were worn out and happy to be on the road. I was blissfully unaware of the upcoming misfortune at my expense that would leave Rhonda laughing uncontrollably.

Somewhere along the way home we decided to stop and get burgers and fries. Not wanting to take the time to stop to eat, we got the food to go and continued on. As my faithful copilot, Rhonda will often help me eat while I’m driving. This consisted of her getting the burger wrapped in a way that prevented it from making a mess and made it easy for me to hold. She also assisted by feeding me the French fries. This is where things went awry. Rhonda dutifully held a fry and moved it toward my mouth. It was a perfect specimen – golden brown and straight with a slight taper on the end. It was hot, crispy and salty. Unfortunately, before I found out it was hot, crispy, and salty, it got stuck up my nose. See, just as she was moving the fry to my mouth, we hit a bump in the road. That fry went directly up my right nostril. Had we been playing basketball, the shot wouldn’t have brushed the rim as it swished through the net. That’s how perfectly it made its way into my nose. As the car was still bouncing from the bump, Rhonda, my wife, in one smooth motion shoved the fry into my still open mouth. My brain had not had enough processing time to figure out what just transpired, so I began to chew. It was only after my nose started to burn from the salt and heat that the realization set over me what had happened. Rhonda lost her mind and proceeded to laugh non-stop for the next half hour. And that’s how our trip home went.

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