It is — I’m not too proud to admit it — frigid. It’s the coldest weekend of the year, in fact, in Brevard. An early November freeze-out: 29 degrees at
It is — I’m not too proud to admit it — frigid. It’s the coldest weekend of the year, in fact, in Brevard. An early November freeze-out: 29 degrees at night and it feels like 19. And my fiancé, Alex, and I are sleeping outside. I hear a small, muffled noise. I wiggle my head out from the blanket that’s covering my head but leave my beanie on — it’s protecting my ears. “What’d you say?” I ask, my breath immediately billowing out in a cloud in the dark. Alex peeps out from beneath approximately 16 layers of blankets and sleeping bags, which form what we have started calling our “nest.” “I said, ‘Is this normal?’” I can’t help but giggle.
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Did I mention it’s also Alex’s first time camping … ever? Like, not just his first time camping away from his backyard. Ever. And we’re sleeping outside in 29-degree weather. Well, not completely outside. We’re sleeping in a pop-up tent camper with incredibly comfy mattresses, no less. But still, the sides have large screen windows. “I know, I know!” I say, my teeth chattering uncontrollably. “But just imagine how awesome it is when it’s summertime up here and 65 degrees at night!” He silently disappears back into the nest. He’s never going to go camping with me again.
So far, it has been a trip of contrasts. Of warm and cold. Of perfect and … well, not so perfect. Setting up our campsite had been a complete breeze. We have an amazing spot in a cove of yellow and orange trees, and we felt like royalty when our camper went up — we absolutely had the coolest set-up in Davidson River Campground. Then it came time to set up the fire, and we realized we forgot starter logs, and Alex insisted we didn’t need them even though the store was just a few minutes away, and it took him more than an hour to get the fire going with damp wood and strips of newspaper. I’d prepared a delicious dinner using our handy camp kitchen … and then I burned our foil dinner over the flames. But still! Everything had been fine by the fire. It had been great by the fire! With a frosty beer — who needs the cooler? Just leave it out on the picnic table for five minutes — and our camp chairs pulled all the way up to the very edge of the orange glow, things were grand. But then it was bedtime, and we had to leave our magical fire to get into our nest. At first, Alex was enchanted by the novelty: “We’re outside! Just sleeping outside!” he said, grinning like a 10-year-old, before I turned off the lantern in the tent. It was 15 minutes later, huddling for warmth in our parkas, still shivering violently, that he asked with a trace of betrayal in his voice if this was normal.
Sure, I had planned Alex’s very first camping trip ever in the mountains on the coldest weekend of the year, and I was the camping veteran of this couple. But I’d brought more blankets than I thought was necessary. I even brought the big coats! And gloves, and hats, and scarves. This is good for him to understand, I think defensively. No matter how awesome your set-up is, a tent is no hotel room — and that’s the whole, wonderful point. I’d grown up camping every summer on Ocracoke Island, and each trip brought new wonders … and disasters: A dark sky full of millions of stars … and blood-thirsty mosquitos and no-see-ums. The calming crash of the waves over the dunes … and sweating through your sleeping bag with a sunburn when the wind dies at midnight. The point was that the wonders were more than worth the inconveniences. And our tent was a far cry from the lumpy, sandy ones I’d grown up in. I just hope tomorrow brings more wonders.
In the morning, it’s equally as hard to get out of our cozy nest as it was to get in. But soon, Alex, has a fire blazing, a pot of coffee percolating over the flames. The sun is warming our backs and filtering through the smoke of our campfire, creating a golden glow, and we’re ready for an adventure. We hop in the car and wind our way up Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway in Pisgah National Forest — one of the most beautiful routes in North Carolina — heading toward the trailhead for Looking Glass Rock. The sky is a clear, robin’s-egg blue. The forest around us is a riot of color, every single leaf a bright red, orange, or yellow. The contrast against the sky is beautiful. Sure, it’s cold … but it’s also the best leaf-peeping weekend of the year. We park, hike up to a stunning view neither of us has ever seen before, and have a picnic on the smooth curved granite peak overlooking a rainbow-colored valley and rolling mountains. Later, on our way back to camp, we stop by Looking Glass Falls, and Alex, covered in a fine, cold mist, grins again in wonder as he skips a flat rock on the river beneath the rushing water. Then we make a pit stop in town to get marshmallows — and starter logs.
That night by our blazing fire (Alex has started calling himself the Fire Master), bone-tired from our day in the best way, warmed from the flames, and with full bellies after a successful campfire dinner and dessert — Alex’s first true campfire s’mores — he turns to me once more. “When can we come back?” he asks. “Who else should we bring with us?” On his first camping trip, the wonders won out. They always do. Tonight, when we crawl into bed, our nest feels like a welcoming hug, our tent feels like home.