We recently returned from a rainy week in the Smoky Mountains with my entire family. The last time we all camped together was five years ago in Colorado. Since everyone remembers that week as being very cold, we decided to meet somewhere a little warmer. And a little closer! We have been planning this trip for a long time. We were all excited about all 9 cousins being together in the great outdoors. We even borrowed a second pop up camper to accommodate everyone. (Shout out to the Waldens!!)
We gathered in Nashville on Sunday, an adventure all unto itself as my sister and her husband endured a breakdown delay in Minnesota. We piled into our cars and left on Monday afternoon for Elkmont Campground. Several hours later we pulled into our reserved campsites and proceeded to sit in our cars waiting for the rain to let up so we could set up camp. This began a bit of a theme for our week of camping in the Smokies. We would wait for the rain to let up to cook dinner, and sometimes it would. Many times it did not so we went ahead and cooked in the rain. I would wait for the rain to let up before I would get out of bed. Sometimes it wouldn’t so I would just stay in bed.
Often in the afternoon the weather would clear up long enough for us to do a hike or even go swimming. But we spent a lot of time either huddled under our tarp or driving somewhere to get out of the rain, a solution that met with varying degrees of success. The kids still had a wonderful time. They don’t seem to mind being wet nearly as much as adults. The three middle cousins…Ben, Wilson and Emily did not bother to try to stay out of the rain at all. Ben was so wet that his skin began to sort of seem soggy all over.
On Friday morning, the sky seemed to completely fall out of the sky. It was like the rain clouds were laughing at us for calling all that other weather we had experienced rain. RAIN! I’LL SHOW YOU RAIN! It poured relentlessly all morning. Finally, all the rest of my family decided to break down their camps in the rain, pack it in drenched and go spend their last night together at my aunt and uncle’s house in Nashville.
All of us were laughing hysterically as we ran around in the downpour pulling up stakes and taking down wet clothes, because Robert, my sister’s husband, was wearing his seven year old’s pink raincoat. He had forgotten to bring a coat and so he had grabbed hers in desperation to get some sort of relief from the rain. The sleeves came about three fourths of the way down his arms and the end of the jacket hung well above his waste. At this point we had put all the smaller kids in the vehicles while we tore around gathering everything.
Our family went into town with them and ate lunch. I’m pretty sure everyone ordered soup. Our shoes squeaked as we walked in to Atlanta Bread Company in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The scene was downright comical. After we said goodbye to them, we returned to our camp where the sun had come out. We set up our chairs, hung our laundry back up and decided to enjoy being just the six of us. The days we have been all together this summer have been few and far between.
The contrast between last summer of Chino togetherness and this summer when at least one of us has been gone every week has left me a little befuddled. Even with the rain, I was glad to have everyone back under our little shelter. That these moments are fewer and that my older ones no longer long for them make me cling tighter to them. Even the fighting and splashing during dish duty made me smile in my heart.
The next morning we packed up to move to another campground in the park called Look Rock. We were ready to see Elkmont and its puddles in our rear view mirror.
We set up camp and hung the wet clothes and towels (again) before heading out to hike to Look Rock. It was a beautiful afternoon. You could see for miles on all sides of the tower.
Taido keeps saying that this is the last summer for Simon in the backpack. I’ll be kind of sad when we finally retire it for good.
I’m not sure our little napper is ready to hike the trail on his own though.
The next day we went to see a very small campground that we all hope to come back and stay in again someday. It only has about 15 sites and is right on the river, tucked far back into the woods. It was so beautiful that we spent a little time hiking the area.
My mom braided all the girls’ hair in Nashville on Monday. Mary Polly did not take her braids out until the following Monday. Pretty impressive braiding Grandjules! Here’s a shot of them on Sunday while she is pointing to a sign indicating that one of the campsites in Abrams Creek was closed due to Aggressive Bear Activity. Taido is reading the backcountry info. You can almost see the Smoky Mountain Backpacking Adventure coming into shape in his mind. Not. scared. of. bears.
We hiked all through the lush, quiet campground, which also serves as a trail head for backcountry campers. It was a muggy, hot day, so we didn’t hike too far up the trail. We saw two groups of backpackers heading in with their gear.
Here’s a campsite by the river.
It started raining soon after we were back at our van. I was so glad not to be those poor wet backpackers! We made our way back to our campsite for our last night in the Smokies. On Monday morning we packed it in and though I was a little sad about our family time coming to an end, I have to say that I was grateful we weren’t heading to another campground. Or another country. Nope. We were headed home.
Only we didn’t quite make it.