SONY DSCI have been to many places in this world that I felt were superior natural sites, but this weekend was really something. Like, jaw-dropping, “oh my gosh. pull over. pull over I need to just look at that forever,” everything I see is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen and my heart could burst with how beautiful this is.

My friend Andrea, who I went high school with but haven’t seen since graduation, invited me to go camping. Desperate for adult human contact and to feel like I really “know” North Carolina, I jumped at the chance, despite not knowing anyone I was about to share a tiny tent with.

SONY DSCWe piled five adults into a Prius – sleeping bags, mattresses, food, booze, clothes, etc. We then got lost for five hours, driving up and up and up into the mountains. But the scenery was so incredible we didn’t care (except for the poor carsick individual who was stuck on the hump seat). We wound higher into the Blue Ridge Mountains, alternately sharing opinions on Miley Cyrus, childhood anecdotes, and exclamations about the beauty around us.

It was truly incredible – nothing but clouds and trees of every size, shape, and color. The air changed from “city air” to “oh, oh my goodness…this tastes like I’m breathing a cloud.” I wanted to roll in the leaf piles that were just beginning to form on the ground. And just giggle. Every once in a while, the wind would pick up and gently shake a shower of yellowing leaves out of the tree canopy – whirling around you like some kind of dream.

Almost Heaven.SONY DSC

We finally arrived at the campsite, binging on cheese and crackers and hummus from Whole Foods, and then headed to wine taste in Linville. We were in a giant red barn and tasting blueberry and cherry wine that Martha Washington liked to serve George, so how can you say no?

We hiked to the falls. “Hike” is generous. It was a walk with some stairs. (If the South could invent “drive-thru hiking” for their obese population, they would.) But we felt like we earned the view when we got there. Beautiful rushing water and rocks lined with time, surrounded by multi-colored trees. The pictures don’t even begin to touch justice with the coloring. It literally took my breath away.

We returned to camp, set up the tent (which can be a tense time, but went so fast I didn’t even have to help!) and promptly started drinking (too much) wine and burning quesadillas over the firepit.

SONY DSCI brought out Table Toppers, my secret weapon game that asks very personal questions. But there is nothing like campfire, darkness and relative strangers to seduce the truth out of you. The people – PhD students studying math and science and social psychology, or informed agribusiness contract workers, or research lab techs, or death penalty lawyers – educated, aware, articulate…it was the intellect’s wet dream for conversational bliss. We come from diverse backgrounds, and I felt a palpable richness to the conversation that made up for the last two months I’ve spent in a serious relationship with my bed, reddit and inner monologue as the world of employment has rejected me over and over again.

Some of us (me) challenged our livers too much that night, and we slept terribly in the sub-freezing temperatures, but we made it up the next morning with a buffet brunch at a quaint family-owned lodge. The people were so nice and sweet it was disconcerting. We think it might be a great set/plot for a horror movie: they disarm you with obnoxious kindness, and then kill you in your sleep. Sorry…too much?

SONY DSCWe piled back into the tiny car to drive to Blowing Rock (which I mistakenly, and much to everyone’s amusement, kept calling “Blowhard Rock. No, Blowhole Rock? Wait – where are we going?”) but along the way, pulled over because it was too beautiful not to. We walked along the edges of the Parkway, climbed a boulder to take pictures, and discovered an unmarked trail. Decided it was a “make your own adventure day” and followed the trail for a few miles before finding the perfect patch of rocks to lay on our backs and observe the way the sun cuts through the forest leaves, the way rocks heat up under its light, and the way lichen and moss and leaves stick to your butt when you wear lycra.

SONY DSCBefore we’d even left, we were planning our next trip up there. It was all I could do to get back in the car to go home, when I really just wanted to say “go, I’ll stay here and look at trees for the next hundred years, hitchhike my way back when I’m ready. I have a granola bar and boxed wine – I’m fine!”

To not have a working cell phone for two days. To be with complete strangers who think you are funny. To listen to John Denver while winding through the very mountains that inspired his songs……I felt happier than I’ve been in a long while.