Bench-warming and Backwoods

It all started with the bus.

My best friend Taylor and I were hauling ass through Nashville traffic to get to the checkpoint for the Greyhound to Washington DC and subsequently, the first official Reason Rally.
Fortune was smiling on us that day, because the driver wasn’t in any hurry to get the party started.  We commenced the ever awkward  hunt-for-2-seats-together dance in a crowded bus, only to find this was not in the cards.
Taylor sat down a good 7 or 8 rows behind me, and gave me a defeated look. It was going to be one long ass ride.

Fuck it, I thought, we’re going to sit together.

So, I took some initiative. I turned to my seat-buddy and smiled sweetly. He smiled back.

You see that guy back there?” I said, pointing at a forlorn looking Taylor.

He nodded, still smiling. I felt like Kaa from The Jungle Book.

Until very recently, he and I hadn’t seen each other for 5 years. We have a whole lot to catch up on this trip.

I can move!” he offered gallantly.

Oh would you? That’d be so sweet……

I  grinned broadly while Taylor quickly filled the vacancy.

And catch up we did! One of the marks of lasting friendship is when you can pick right up where you left off, like no time has passed at all. We covered broad ranges of topics from deep to lighthearted and back again. Our enthusiastic conversation turned out to be infectious, because one of the girls in the seat behind us had been listening and just had to say something about my strained relationship with my parents since being openly at odds with religion. She too came from a very conservative family background, and related her experiences of becoming an atheist.

It reminds me of what I said in my first blog post on here. You never know which of the thousands of conversations you have in your life are going to be the catalyst for awesome new friendships and experiences. If I hadn’t weaseled Taylor a seat next to me on the bus, then we never would have had the conversation that gave Ashley the urge to chat with us. I more than likely would have gone to sleep after an hour of being lulled by the continuous creaks and groans of the bus engine if I had been sitting on my own.

This girl, Ashley, was attending the rally with her husband Lance, and they had not officially “come out” as atheists yet. They introduced us to two of their friends, Jamie and Yesenia, and the six of us formed our own little clique.

Over the course of the next couple days we would experience a whole slew of adventures in Washington DC including but not limited to wandering the streets, perusing the local culture and venues, enjoying the Reason Rally despite intermittent rain showers, a bus breaking down and stranding us in the middle of nowhere, a dizzying lack of sleep, as well as a memorable bout of drinking on the bus ride back to Tennessee.
As we parted ways, we made a pact to meet again and go camping, and so with social networking details and phone numbers exchanged we ventured back to our prospective crannies of the state.

Fast forward to this last weekend.

Like I mentioned, we had been planning to go camping for awhile, and finally pinned down a date to make it all happen. Lance picked out a picturesque park in Manchester, TN which is approximately halfway between Nashville and Chattanooga. The idea for us four outdoors aficionados was to do this old school; a tent, no electricity or other modern amenities and no luxuries other than what we could carry in our backpacks.
When I got there early, however, I learned with much amusement that not only was there electricity but running water at the campsite and shower rooms down the road. The rows of campers and RVs lining the road made it evident that most folks had no intention of doing without.

Taylor and I got to the park early and explored the area. I had told my friends and boyfriend that I’d have my phone turned off all weekend. For me, being outdoors is the closest thing to paradise. I feel most alive when I am surrounded by trees and rocks and a the dirt and twigs of the trail crunching underfoot. There’s just something centering about the experience. The sights, sounds and smells of (mostly) untamed Tennessee forest are truly breathtaking. As we wound our way through the woods, Taylor and I found waterfalls and blue holes just waiting to be swam in. This was going to be an awesome trip!

We went on a quick grocery run, and discovered that the only place that would take my food stamps was the local Wal-mart. I’m not exactly the biggest fan of that conglomerate, but hey, when in Rome—you still have to eat.
Turns out, it was pretty much unnecessary, because Ashley and Lance showed up with enough food to feed us (and potentially the rest of the campers in the area) for a week.
We spent the latter part of our evening catching up, hiking and going swimming.
Ashley pointed out that Taylor’s and my personalities were aligned in the way that we both fearlessly explored the new frontiers; climbing cliffs and diving into lagoons and picking up snakes and bugs to closer examine them. We took a very hands-on approach.
Ashley and Lance enjoyed observing their surroundings, and taking a more laid back approach to our little jaunts. It was so cute to see them timidly climbing into the streams and hanging onto each other.
The weather was very warm, but not stiflingly so. We swam for probably a good 2 hours or so before deciding to return to camp for dinner.
The local fauna of Old Stone Fort State Park are very friendly.  Perhaps a little too friendly. While we cooked and ate together, we found ourselves in a hilarious struggle to keep the raccoons and squirrels out of our supply of vittles. You could walk practically right up to these critters (as drunk Lance noted with awe) and they’d just look at you while holding your sun chips or bread and just be like “Oh this is yours? You mad, brah?”

This minor annoyance culminated with the now infamous vodkamelon incident. Taylor made what is known as a vodka watermelon. My understanding is that you cut a hole in the melon, and insert a bottle of vodka, which gets soaked into the fruit creating a delicious and refreshing way to get intoxicated out of your mind.
The four of us ate probably about half of it before deciding we’d had about all our livers could handle for one evening. As we turned in to our tent, we heard an abundance of chittering (raccoon speak) and scampering about. The little fuckers got more and more fearless as the vodka got into their systems, and we noticed at least 3 of them on our campsite eating the remnants of the watermelon. Lance named the ringleader Wallace, and Taylor named his brother Charlie. I can only imagine how hungover the raccoons of middle Tennessee must have been that Sunday morning! Serves the little thieves right, though.

Lance cooked us breakfast that morning on a propane stove, and it was one of the best vegetarian breakfasts I’ve ever had. Ashley showed me her plastic shoe-hornlike device that allows us ladies to urinate standing up! I consider the experience to be one of my proudest achievements. It really is liberating for the world to be your urinal, and I don’t think many men appreciate it enough.

The last afternoon of our not-nearly-long-enough excursion in the backwoods of Middle Tennessee was spent jumping off a 30 foot cliff into a blue hole. You heard me.
We witnessed some kids doing it on one of our hikes, and immediately made plans to go back and try it out ourselves. I’ll admit, the thought of it scared me shitless. I’d never jumped off a cliff before, and my strong sense of self preservation wanted to make sure the water was deep enough to safely jump from that high first.
Buuuut, what’s life without a little adventure. Taylor, Lance and I scuttled up the sloping rocky cliff behind the carefree wide-eyed youths who preceded us.
Now, I knew myself well enough to understand that if I thought about it too much, I wouldn’t do it. When it comes to this stuff, I have to let go and enjoy the experience.
Leading the way as usual, Taylor and I reached the edge of the cliff first.
Starting to feel fear and awareness of how high up we were seize my bikini clad body, I told Taylor I wanted to go first.
So, we paper-rock scissored it out, and I won.
Shit, shit, shit. I thought.
I asked a nearby smirking youngster how bad it hurt when you hit the water, and he assured me it was giggles all the way.
Trying not to think that this was probably the same type of kid who’d eat beetles for giggles, I walked up to the edge.

For a second, I looked down at Ashley, who had their camera and gave me a winning smile and a thumbs up. I thought about flexing the psychological muscle which embraces uncertainty. The mentality that adventure should be sought in all avenues of life, regardless of circumstance. And I thought of how incredibly fortunate I’ve been in the people who are a part of my life. Taylor, Lance and Ashley are wonderful individuals, and I believe that this weekend showed how friends can bring out the best in each other.

And so, I jumped. And it didn’t hurt at all. It was actually pretty awesome. So I did it again.

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