The opportunity presented itself this past weekend for me to get away for a night, doing something I love – camping out. For me there’s just something magical about running away to enjoy the serenity of the woods. So peaceful, so predictable…
Yeah, that was the plan anyway.
Located not even fifteen minutes from home, White Oak Mountain looks down on hwy-29 as it bustles with north and southbound traffic. At one prominent point, communication towers sprout above the trees like giant beanstalks, their red lights beating a steady rhythm all night long. This area of the mountain, with its high-tech equipment and accompanying access road is often referred to by locals as “Tower Mountain.” I had camped up here before and consider it a wonderful getaway. Mostly devoid of human activity, the only curious stares I’ve ever received were from deer and rabbits.
Under the shadow of the towers, I parked the truck on the shoulder of the dead-end road and left my obligatory hand-scrawled “HIKING” note on the driver’s seat to ward off the suspicions which can result from an “abandoned” truck being found in a remote spot like this. With my pack on my back, I headed off down the path toward that favorite spot which I had last enjoyed when temperatures were much cooler, on an outing with our youngest daughter, Hallie.
I got my hammock system set up and dialed in the suspension to get things just right – Ahh, perfect. Gonna sleep like a baby tonight! I took my time making and enjoying a nice simple meal of fresh squash and banana peppers pan fried in olive oil, and after cleaning up from supper, settled into my nest to savor the fact that I had nothing on my to-do list. I called my wife (who tried half-heartedly to act like she was missing me, but was obviously getting along just fine with her “me-time”) and told her that I might go to bed soon. “Why?!? Because the sun is down and I’m way too comfortable to stay coherent for long.”
Eventually, a sound stirred me from my sleep and I checked my phone – 2:40 in the morning. My mind was working slowly, but I eventually decided it must’ve been a car door that woke me. I was a good 500-yards from the road yet still close enough to recognize some activity at my truck. Not cool. I’m always well prepared to take care of myself, and situations like this don’t get me too hyped up; but the thought of someone interupting my night of pure simple nothingness just didn’t seem right. Nope, not cool at all.
I soon saw beams from a pair of flashlights bouncing around the trees as a few individuals made their way cautiously back the path, heading in my direction. Well, that was a relief. After years in law enforcement, I recognized the intensity of the lights, and decided these were most likely county deputies rather than some young punk vandals bent on destroying both my truck and my peaceful mojo. I stood there, watching quietly and waiting to see if their tracking skills were up to the challenge, wondering if it might be some of the guys from my academy class. Surprisingly, the faceless lights continued down the path right past the little area I had staked a claim to for the night, and disappeared even deeper into the woods. Within a few minutes they were back, and passed by me again as they retreated toward the road and their waiting vehicle lights.
I chuckled to myself when I heard the car doors and watched the headlights blaze a path across the trees as my unknown visitors turned and headed back down the mountain. Since I was already up, I did my duty in caring for nature and watered a tree before nestling back into my hammock, happy for my top quilt stuffed with downy goodness, now that the temperature had dropped a few more degrees. A properly hung hammock is an incredible sleeping machine, and in no time at all I had drifted back off for round-two of blissful slumber.
“Hello Moto! …” my phone blared in it’s annoying little digital voice, and this time I was instantly awake! The screen showed the name of a friend of mine, a recently retired investigator with the county. It was exactly 3:30 am.
“Hey Mike, I hate to bother you at this time of the night…” said the familiar voice, “but do you know where your truck is?”
” Well I can tell you where I left it. It better still be there,” I quipped. I went on to explain my getaway and told him about my almost-visitors.
“See, Mike, we got an alarm call up there from one of the equipment buildings for the state police’s new digital transmitter. Our county boys were the first ones to get there and of course the state wasn’t far behind. When they found your truck parked in the dark, it just didn’t look too good, ya know?”
“Yeah, I’ll bet it didn’t,” I laughed. “Do you think I should call them or something?”
“Uhh, Mike, the trooper’s fixin to tow your truck. Here’s his cell number.”
I thanked my friend and apologized that he was also dragged back to coherency in the middle of the night, but I considered myself blessed to benefit from the undying comradery shared by those in law enforcement , both the active-duty and the not-so-much-anymore. I knew the trooper from some limited interaction over the years, and I quickly punched his number into my phone.
“Hey, this is Mike Klauss,” I started. “I just heard you’re getting ready to snatch my truck…?”
It took a few moments for him to remember me, but as I explained what I was doing up here, he finally let out a laugh and said, “Man that woulda sucked if youd’ve got back out here in the morning and your truck was gone!” At this point it seemed appropriate to laugh with him (at my expense) and I gave it a hearty attempt.
He explained that they’ve had some very costly vanalism and theft issues up here, and that his Liutenant wanted the truck towed if they couldn’t locate the owner. I completely understood his view on the situation and offfered to walk back out and meet him if it would help. He said that he needed to roll on to another call, but would have dispatch call-off the wrecker if I’d promise him the truck would be gone before the sun came up. “No arguement here,” I told him, and thanked him for his understanding.
Well, I thought, it’s coming up on 4:00 and there’s no hope for any rest at this point. I strapped on my headlamp and got to work undoing my potentially awesome sleeping arrangements, and after packing everything up, hoofed it back out the moonlit path towards my truck.
Yup, still there. A weary grin made it’s way across my face as I fired up the engine and headed down the mountain.
Sometimes things go as planned, and sometimes they just go. I’ve learned to hang on and try my best to enjoy the ride. What else can you do when you realize that life is truly … unscripted?