A Different JOE (John's Outdoor Experience)

John Srouji

We raced down the very steep hill to get back to our car and get our remaining materials so we’d be able to watch the sunset peacefully. 

After being robbed of the Junior Outdoor Experience I had been looking forward to since first coming to Lovett, I was left with a throbbing desire to find some way to get back into the wild and become one with nature like our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Over the summer of ‘20, I went on many short hiking treks that each lasted a few hours and each consisted of mild exhaustion. 

And while these were great outdoor experiences, I was still left with an unquenchable thirst to return to the wilderness. However, once the weather started getting cold, I was bound to the comfort of the indoor heater in my house. For the next six months, I spent my days daydreaming of a warmer time where I would be able to get back out to my true home - the wilderness.

Before I knew it, we were in March, and the final semester of my senior year. A friend of mine had reached out to me and a few other friends about a potential camping trip, to a place in the Pisgah Forest called Max Patch. I was thrilled with the idea of going camping in Pisgah as a sort of replacement to JOE and saw it as the perfect opportunity to reunite with the great outdoors. I hadn’t been camping in probably eight or nine years, so this experience was going to feel relatively new for me, but nonetheless I was excited.

We had scheduled to go camping on the Friday of Easter Weekend, driving back on Saturday morning. As the trip approached, fears grew over the safety of the trip. Most of us were very inexperienced with camping, and our parents expressed many concerns - especially regarding the temperature which was predicted to reach a low of twenty-eight degrees that night. I for one almost bailed out of fear of a night filled with hypothermia and frostbite, but I assured myself that in the worst-case scenario, we would get in the car and drive to the nearest 24-hour Waffle House and stay there for the night. Unfortunately, we did have one cowardly person decline the camping offer solely out of fear of being miserable in the cold weather, but despite this loss lowering our group morale, we kept moving forward with eagerness.

When the day came to finally camp, we took a four-hour drive up to the campsite. We stopped a few times along the way for some essentials (like Zaxby’s and Sour Cream & Onion Lays), finally arriving at the campsite parking lot at around 6:30 PM. We left our car parked and hiked up a steep hill for ten minutes to reach the actual campsite. Once we were up there we were relieved to see other campers there, meaning that we weren’t complete idiots for deciding to camp in such cold temperatures.

After taking a minute to admire the view, which was truly breathtaking may I add, we realized the sun was going down quickly and if we didn’t get our tents and camp set up soon, we’d have to set up our entire campsite in the darkness and we’d miss what would surely be one of the most beautiful sunsets we had ever seen. We only had four people and a whole car of items we had brought so it was going to take a few trips for sure. We started our trek back down to the car to get our first round of items we could carry. 

At first, we just grabbed the essentials, a tent, sleeping bags, some food, and our personal bags. We set up one of our tents when we got back to the top just to make sure we got that done before the sun went down. However, once we had finished this first tent, we saw how much closer the sun had gotten to setting. We raced down the very steep hill to get back to our car and get our remaining materials so we’d be able to watch the sunset peacefully. 

On this trip back to the top, we grabbed things like firewood and our remaining food. The issue was that we had A TON of firewood and really did not have enough people to carry it. We ended up having each person carrying two bundles of firewood along with their personal bags and groceries. This worked for a few minutes until the really steep part of the mountain came along where certain members of the group had to take a break to catch their breaths. By the time we had stopped to take a break, we realized that the sun was just then starting to set. So, we put all of our stuff down halfway up the hill and admired the view. Despite not being at the very top of the mountain to see it, we were still left with an amazing sight and one that I will never forget. 

After the sun had set, we picked back up all of our stuff and resumed our journey to the top of the mountain. When we had reached the campsite again, it was getting pretty dark, so we had to set up our final tent with very little light. We managed to get it up after probably twenty minutes, but once it was done, it worked great. Then it was time to move on to making a fire.

The fire was a crucial part of the experience. We needed the fire to stay warm, to make s’mores, and to not get frostbite. We put some of our starting firewood into a pit we found by the campsite and began trying to make fire. Our friend had assured us before the trip that he knew how to make fire and had brought a lighter so we trusted him, but when it came time to actually get the fire started, we found that the lighter wouldn’t stay on. We concluded that it must have been the winds that prevented us from making progress on our fire, but we still tried to get help from some other campers to see if they had better lighters or strategies. We found a nearby campsite that let us borrow a lighter they had used to start their fire, yet we still couldn’t get it to work. 

We were getting hopeless as we crept deeper into the night and it was only getting colder and windier. Eventually we gave up and went over to the nearby campsite where a small group of people in their twenties were very gracious about sharing their fire with us. After being there for a few minutes, a group of two other high school seniors who weren’t able to get their fire started joined us as well. The fire kept us warm for many hours and we all bonded as a group, sharing our experiences with life, high school, camping, and more. In exchange for letting us use the fire, we contributed our many bundles of firewood, which kept the fire going for as long as we needed it. The whole experience was really surreal.

When the time came to go to bed, we left the fire behind and headed back to our tents. If there was one thing that kept me sane through the night, it was the hand warmers I had put inside my gloves. If it weren’t for those, I think there would have been a very real chance of me getting frostbite. Luckily though, the rest of my body stayed surprisingly warm throughout the night. The only exception was my feet, which despite being in socks, in shoes, and inside of a sleeping bag were still insanely frigid. My feet suffered through the whole night and I am convinced they are the reason I was never able to fall asleep that night. By 6:00 in the morning, the temperature had gotten down to 19 degrees. It was much colder than we had expected, yet with the number of layers I was wearing, everything felt fine, except my feet >:(

Eventually, it was morning, and we got out of our tents to watch a sunrise, this time from the top of the mountain, not halfway up. Once again it was so beautiful. Despite how cold it got in the middle of the night, we all had no regrets and truly enjoyed the experience, even if it wasn’t JOE. We took down our tents, took two trips back down to pack our stuff in the car, and then drove to a nearby town to enjoy a nice breakfast at Waffle House.
The Lovett School is an independent, coeducational day school where children from Kindergarten through Grade 12 find the courage to explore and the drive to discover.

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