Yup—I did it. Two days and two nights, deep in the woods of North Georgia. And despite my initial protestations (and the tolerance of threats from my resident Go Green enthusiast/sister-in-law Angelou and much pleading from Mari and Lila), I have to say it wasn’t half bad. And maybe—just maybe—I’m willing to admit that I had some fun. Here, our journey in pictures and in words:
We stayed in Ft. Yargo, a state-run park in Winder, GA. It’s only about 40 minutes from our home, but the massive lake, pristinely-maintained forest, and primitive living made it feel like we were 400 light years away from Atlanta. And yes, that’s Angelou, acting like she’s about to check into The Ritz.
Signs welcomed our families—the Chileses, the Ezeiloes, and the Gees—to our campsite, located on small peninsula off a small corner of the lake. We dropped our stuff and got busy getting settled—setting up tents, unpacking sleeping bags and lights (all graciously provided by REI, the campground superstore). You know I was scoping out what mattered most: the bathroom (a two-minute walk from our tent site, it had running water and toilets, but lots of bugs, which meant I was going to do the drop and run; showers up in there were not optional), the cooking facilities (a rock pit with a sturdy grill) and an exit strategy (you know, in case a chick had to make a quick getaway). All in all, it was all quite nice… for the outdoors.
The kids got a kick out of the idea of sleeping on the ground, surrounded by the lake. They skipped rocks over the water, tossed around the football, danced to the Black Eyed Peas, Earth Wind & Fire, and Nice & Smooth, tooled around on their scooters, and, on many occasions, were caught looking reflectively out over all that God made. (A big highlight for Mari was being allowed to brush her teeth in the woods and spit on the ground. It’s the little things, y’all. The little things.)
During the day, we mostly chilled—went for a leisurely hike through the woods, took a dip in the man-made beach, talked, and read (Mazi got wrapped up in the latest Dan Brown novel, "Angels and Demons," while Nick and I shared Nathan McCall’s incredible novel, “Them.” We got our New York Times fix on our Blackberries (reception was crystal clear).
When the dark settled in, we whipped up dinner (grilled veggies, salmon, chicken, and potatoes the first night; hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken sausage, and grilled corn the second) on the campfires, and then watched the kids gorge on S’mores while we played “When I Go to the Moon.” We followed that up with a raucous round of campfire singing, black people style, which means we were crooning Teena Marie, Chaka Khan, Rick James, Run DMC, and Sugar Hill Gang songs at the top of our lungs (the volume of said sing-alongs was wholly controlled by various adult elixirs).
The trickiest part? Sleeping on the ground, in the pitch black, in the middle of the Georgia woods. This truly is something that freaked me out, not a little, but a lot. I’m no fan of bugs or critters (though REI’s Jungle Juice, a bug repellant, is the truth, the light, and the way, for real!), but it wasn’t the creepy crawlies that bothered me. It was the noises. And the darkness. And the fear of what was lurking—the unknown. The first night wasn’t so bad, but the second night, Lila woke me out of a dead sleep, shivering, talking about how she heard noises and footsteps. I heard them, too, and felt powerless to do anything about it but cuddle Lila and try to be brave while she settled back to sleep. All the while, all I could think was, “Damn, James has the knife in is tent—how am I going to stab a mofo if I don’t have the regulator?!” I spent the rest of the night staring at the stars and waiting for Jason/Freddie Krueger/The Blair Witch/a group of guys in white robes to slice through the tent. Needless to say, sunlight couldn’t come fast enough for me.
When morning finally came, we made quick work of breaking down the tents, gathering up our things, and getting in our last looks at nature. I have to admit that it was quite a lovely experience, sleeping out in the open and waking up to such beauty. I’m not planning on becoming a camping enthusiast, that much I know (though REI has some pretty spectacular gear that did wonders for keeping us comfortable—from the tents to the lanterns to the coffee percolator to the backpacks, kids’ toys, and the Jungle Juice). But I wouldn’t be against going again… one of these days. (The picture below is of me and Mazi—proof that I was, indeed, there!)
A special thanks to REI for making this, my first camping trip, a comfortable, special experience; the tents were incredible, the lanterns lit the way, the percolator made great java, the sleeping bags were quite cozy, the portable stove made perfect Jiffy Pop Popcorn, and not one of us got bit by a bug thanks to your fantastic Jungle Juice (I'm SO buying stock in the JJ!)