Some Other Trips
I have shared my recollections of the (No) Ice Cream Hike; both as the sucker and the player of suckers. We have sat in the rain together at the Pigeon Mountain Coves (all four)… even though it never rained on me at the cove. We have fended off Copperheads as we rock hopped the Gorge, gazed at Black Bears beside the bus on our way through the Smoky Mountains, and we have paddled the length and breadth of Rabun and Seed Lakes. But there are still a few other memorable trips we took, mostly on Sunday afternoons: The Ridge Hike, Hickory Nut Mountain or Vandiver Hike, depending on your vintage… and then there were a few more.
My first recollection of the Vandiver Hike (Hickory Nut to you youngsters) was staring at Coach Mike’s butt as he strode up the mountain. I was five and fairly certain that we must have walked to Atlanta at least, by the time we got to the top. Needless to say, I cried out of weariness; and Coach Mike, picked me up and carried me all the way back. Actually, that is the Disney version; what really happened is that he wore my fanny out for being a baby; after all, I was a whopping five years old! I do remember the huge rocks in the retaining wall the Vandiver sons built to hold a modicum of soil around their apple trees… some of which were still alive and producing a very stunted apple.
Mr. Simpson revived the hike, but for some reason we called it the Hickory Nut Mountain Hike, probably because we walked to the top of, yes.. HNM! My first retake, I was in my twenties and when we got to the top, I was sure we must be near Gatlinburg; it was still a trek. Only now, I didn’t get to see Coach Mike, up close and personal. I walked in the back and from the time he crossed the dam, my group never saw him at all until we turned to come down the mountain. At the first creek we would ‘bottle-neck’ and the older boys in the back proceded to run the rest of the hike. Coach Mike would not slow down for anything; younger boys cried, he didn’t hit them, he just ignored them, and kept to his blistering pace.
Which brings me to the renaming of that hike: the Clary-Rudisell memorial hike, on which I was not privileged to participate; however I did get to laugh at the aftermath! Coach Mike was blistering it as usual; Coach Clary was behind Ed Rudisell, the fat kid we all had in front of us on the way out of the Gorge at one time or another. Coach Clary didn’t mind, I don’t think, because Rudisell gave him an excuse to hold to a reasonable pace. All might have been well, except Rudisell got so far behind he actually began to lead his own hike. Unfortunately, he was not familiar with the terrain and geed at a hawing point in the hike. The first part of the hike arrived in record time; the second part was discovered sometime after Sunday night dinner, wandering in the environs of Tallulah Falls, or maybe it was Clarkesville, Gainesville, or even Atlanta! As I said, I did not make that one; some of you who did might want to correct me on any details that are hazy in my description.
The other Sunday hike that was memorable was the Ridge Hike. Can you remember climbing Jacob’s Ladder and then arriving at Five Points; you know where the Drug Store was; the one that sold ice cream from the Ice Cream Factory down the road. Anyway at Five Points we took the first trail to the right, an old logging road and hiked the ridge of the mountain to the power cut. There we would look down on camp in the distant valley, Coach Mike would count three and we would all holler, “Hey Pop,” who never went on the hike with us; he stayed at camp for a long Sunday rest hour. I always hoped that we woke him up; but he never said. And then we would come down the Ice Cream trail back to camp.
One opening day (we began to take hikes on opening day in Mr. Simpson’s era… theory was to tire the kids out so they wouldn’t have time to get homesick; don’t know about the kids but it tired the staff out, for sure. This particular day there were lightening flashes on the mountain, but we went anyway; theory was… dead kids are never homesick, I guess. We split camp in two as we always did on this hike. It was the year Coach Mike was sick with cancer, so I took his place and Coach Poss walked up front with me. Lance Lazonby took the younger campers and Mr. Simpson went with him. Sure enough, at the top of the ridge all Hell broke loose: mud slides, strangled frogs and enough lightening to stand your hair on end, if you had any. And then, hail the size of mothballs… it was Pharaoh and Moses all over again! We began to run and slip and slide in a rutted mountain red gulley. I looked back and Coach Poss was coming at me like a drum major of the band, arms akimbo and legs shooting out, goose step fashion as he struggled to keep his feet. I wanted to get out of the way, but the gulley was too deep so I just ran like the devil was after me. Neither of us fell, the Lord only knows why not. All this time we never met the younger campers; they were way behind; why. And then we saw them, whirling like Indian dervishes as the frozen mothballs hit them on the back, head, and legs. When the storm him, Lance commanded them to all crouch down and wait it out; which was fine for Lance, because he had on a huge poncho and that Clint Eastwoond/Indiana Jones hat… he was feeling any pain. More than I can say for the younger boys or Mr. Simpson, who eventually took over and led the hike… he was not a happy camper/director. After the storm stopped, we relaxed our pace. When we got to the rock pile, however, one last lightening bolt hit out of the blue about twenty feet from us. I am sure God must have been aiming at Coach Poss; he thinks it was meant for me. It was the first time either of us fell that day, and the last, thank God… for not being too accurate!
The last two trips I want to tell you about were the most special of all for me. I made them every year: the first was the trip I made up to camp in late May or early June and the last was the trip I made home in August. One was the sweetest day of my year and the other was bitter-sweet at its best. I can remember those early trips in our family station wagon on those twisty, twiney mountain roads; Highway 17 and US 441. The air was sweet with a late spring tang and everything was so green it made my heart soar. What really made me soar though was the anticipation of what was to come: ten weeks with the best friends I had in the world. I would begin to imagine who would be back from last year’s bunch and I could barely contain myself as I thought about league games, trips, and even classes. It seemed to take forever, especially that final mile up the hill; I first made that trip when the road was still a gulley washed dirt mountain trail. I remember going through the gate and almost shouting for the sheer joy of that valley laid out before me.
But all good things do end and I remember packing (we always stayed about a week after camp ended) with a huge lump in my throat, because it was over. I think that going home day hit me harder than the day after Christmas; each reminding me that it would be a year, almost, until I could do it again. Sometimes I would even cry… when nobody else was looking. What made it worse than Christmas, I think was that I knew I was missing friends, some whom I would never see again. You see, the spirit of the place was not the place… it was the boys who came to the place; it was you, whether we were close friends; even if we didn’t know each other at all. One time I was out partying with Bucky Carithers; we ran into Bill Lambert. Y Campers being what we are, we drove up to camp that night (camp had been over for a week). Somehow we got through the gate without waking up Bobby Ledford and we slept in the Doc Shack. The next morning, even though it looked like camp, it wasn’t; because no-one was there. That is when I knew what Y Camp was all about.
Probably nothing will come as close to death for me as Y Camp closing. I truly felt my mortality and the passage of time… the going away of something that cannot be brought back. Sure camp would come again, but it would be a different camp, with different boys. Even today, I see many of you in the boys here now; boys being what we are… we are a lot alike; but not exactly.
I live here now and I never go home, but you did and they still do, and so closing day is the same. I feel it still… but I think it is good practice for that day we will all face one day; the one sometimes mistakenly called final. It’s really now… final and I am pretty sure that when the shadows depart and the mist rolls… I will hear my old man whistle his famous whistle and will look and see him in the distance on the steps of the gym porch with a basketball under his arm waiting to get the game on, one more time! And maybe we ought to talk about those famous Leader-Staff games… but that is for another day.