Jay and I enjoy camping. It’s a good thing, because in order to be on the road for a year, we need to spend most nights either camping or staying with friends and family. So far of 10 nights on the road, we spent 2 camping, 7 with friends and 1 night in a free hotel thanks to my mom’s rewards points.
Congaree National Park, near Columbia, South Carolina
The first night we camped in Congaree National Park, near Columbia South Carolina. My cousin Peter gave us a National Park Pass for Christmas, so we were eager to use it and check out a National Park that we had never heard of. Turns out that it is free to enter and free to camp at Congaree so you don’t need a pass, but at least we got to get our first “passport stamp” for the book that my mom got for us.
We got to the park close to dusk and had just enough time to set up the tent and hurry back to the board walk trail that runs for two miles through an old growth floodplain forest. It was eerie to walk along a wooden pathway, suspended above the muck as the light was disappearing. My eyes were straining to tell the difference between tree roots and snakes. At one point we did see an animal close to the trail, moving gingerly through the flooded forest. We couldn’t tell what it was, but Jay guessed that it was probably a possum based on size and gait.
I tried to keep my cool and appreciate the beauty and stillness that the forest offered at night. But I mostly kept my eyes peeled to the boardwalk and focused on not losing my balance. Jay stopped me to point out that the moon was reflected in the waters of the swamp (see picture below). This was truly a unique place and the boardwalk gave us an opportunity to explore a habitat we never could have observed without it.
Oak Mountain State Park, Birmingham, Alabama
After a night inside in Atlanta Georgia thanks to my high school friend Brett Goodwin (thanks Brett!), we headed back to our tent, this time at a nice campground in Oak Mountain State Park on the edge of Birmingham. We had only intended to spend the day at the park. It offers several miles of single track for mountain biking, and Jay needs to ride every few days or he starts to twitch. Once we got to the park, the late hour and attractive campsite lured us in. Unfortunately, camping in state parks can get expensive – this one cost us $16 (in addition to $4 to enter the park).
With an overnight low of 28 degrees, the downside of winter camping is obvious. The upsides though are surprisingly plentiful: no crowds, easy pick of the best tent site, no bugs, and easier wildlife viewing without leaves on the trees. This campground had the added benefit of heated bathrooms with a hot shower!
In the mornings, to wake up and work out the kinks from sleeping on a mat all night, I like to do some light yoga. It was somewhat difficult what with the 3 layers of clothing I was wearing to combat the 30 degree temperatures, but you couldn’t beat the view.
I had just barely started my Sun Salutation, when I heard leaves shuffling on the hillside to my left. At first I assumed it was another camper, off for an early hike. It took me a second to realize it was far more likely to be an animal. I got my camera ready and soon spotted this buck making his way down the hill. He didn’t notice me until after I had snapped a few pictures. He scurried up the hill and I went back to finish my routine. In a few minutes, the smell of bacon lured me back to the campsite.
After a great breakfast of oatmeal, bacon, and freshly brewed coffee, we broke down the tent, shaking the frost off of the INSIDE of the rain fly! We are glad to be headed towards the desert and southern California where we may see some less frosty nights.
Overall our two nights under the stars were fantastic. We look forward to spending many more nights sleeping out throughout the U.S. and Canada.