Sunday, August 16, 2009

Into the Wild (of Fayette County)

I not only survived a weekend alone with my parents in the woods, but also a minor yet aggressive skunk invasion. My mom and I were cleaning up under our new circus-tent-of-a-canopy after a fajita dinner when I saw the critter, mostly white with a fluffy tail that made it look like an over-sized Persian cat, creeping next to the picnic table. I dragged my mom out without a word, unzipping the flap as fast and calmly as I could manage so that we wouldn't panic and cause the skunk to panic and trigger a spray attack.

At 9 p.m. a family of three skunks took over our campsite in Babcock State Park. Although they appeared friendly -- almost cute really -- we didn't want to risk getting sprayed. They effectively banned us from approaching our own campfire or tents until they finished snorting every graham cracker crumb under our camp chairs.

In the middle of the night an urgent need to hike to the bathhouse woke me, but as I scrounged around for my flashlight I heard a large animal poking around our tent. I froze, crouched on all fours, too afraid to switch on the lantern or even exhale as I listened to the panting and snorting. I imagined a wolf sniffing out our site. "Something is outside!" I finally found the breath to hiss to my dad. He responded with a hostile grunt and rolled over.

After a minute or two of silent fear, I mustered up the nerve to lift my head to peek through the mesh tent window. I only saw a flashlight beaming in our direction from the campsite across from us.

The next morning I woke up feeling like I'd slept on a rock for a pillow and finished off a bottle of wine before crawling into my sleeping bag the night before. I wondered if this camping business was really worth it. A cup of the closest reproduction I've had of a Starbucks Americano that I made with my dad's (never used) Aeropress improved things. The gadget efficiently presses out espresso shots to which you add water (and in my case a bit of vanilla soy), with little cleanup required. That smooth cup of coffee combined with showering and flossing in the bathhouse almost made me feel like I was hosteling in Italy again.

We spent our days on the trails, pushing through Rhododendron thickets, brushing by mountain laurel and hiking under sun-speckled canopies of umbrella magnolias. We crossed wooden bridges over rocky creeks to take in canyon vistas from cliff-top overlooks and squeezed between Hummer-sized boulders to snap photos of waterfalls, all while trying not to sink our hiking boots into mud puddles. All of this outdoorsiness made me contemplate getting in touch with my inner Lara Croft and taking up mountain climbing.

When we visited the rustic, wooden Glade Creek Grist Mill that grinds out buckwheat and cornmeal powered by a rushing stream, a flood of deja vu washed over me as I envisioned the clock that hung on my godparents' wall as a child -- a painting of that same scene.

After my weekend in the wilds, I'm now determined that I can't leave West Virginia in good conscience without going Tomb Raider and rafting its world-famous Gauley River Rapids...

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