I have posted quite often about finding new and fun-filled ways to stay active on our slow walk through the golden years, but this past weekend I participated in an activity that was fun-filled, but definitely not new. Ease Along with me here and I will tell you about a great time with great friends, some old and some not so.
Camp II is an annual outing hosted by the members of the Appalachian Anglers Society, a group that is dedicated to the sport of trout fishing and the formation of strong friendships while enjoying the great outdoors. This venerable organization came into being in 1957 when a group of fly fishing enthusiasts decided to have a fishing competition. The winner would be the member of the group who caught the largest native trout on a fly while fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and would receive a trophy to be awarded annually.
In addition to the fishing competition, the members also participated in an annual camping trip to relax and enjoy each other’s company. The outing became known as Camp II. The origin of the name is somewhat a mystery, but the consensus is that many of the members had gone to summer camp as youngsters and were now going to camp once more as big boys. Over the years the trophy eventually was retired, but Camp II has survived and grown. I observed my 30th birthday on my first Camp II and have been a proud member (and Past President) of the Appalachian Anglers for over 38 years.
Our campout has been held at many different sites along streams known to produce trout in great abundance. Many of my friends are of the belief that Camp II is a fixed place and my response to that is always “Camp II is a state of mind”. Nevertheless, for more than 30 years Camp II has been held in various campsites in the Cherokee National Forest near Tellico Plains, Tennessee.
For approximately 20 years McNabb Creek Campground has been the site of Camp II primarily because, as an established large group, we are able to reserve the campground exclusively for the entire five days of our event. McNabb Creek Campground is adjacent to the stream known as North River and is a short distance from the larger Tellico River. It is always held on the weekend before Mother’s Day because we actually had Camp II on Mother’s Day once and we’ll NEVER make that mistake again. Camp II is open from Wednesday until Sunday and several of the campers actually stay the entire time but, for most, it is a two-day event. The number of campers has varied over the years. At our peak, we had close to 100 campers, but as some of the veterans gave up camping, the number dwindled down to near 30. In recent years a lot of younger members including the grown children of several Anglers have joined us and the average number of campers is probably around 50. This year the crowd was large. I kicked myself for the years I had missed.
Because I gave away or sold much of my camping equipment when Helen (adorable wife) and I downsized, I haven’t camped out in a long time and have missed several of these outings. Last year I decided to end the streak of years with no Camp II and would go for a day trip to make up for some lost time. Another reason was to drive into the National Forest along the Tellico River which is one of the most beautiful, scenic, and relaxing trips in the entire world…no exaggeration. I couldn’t wait to hit the road and when I arrived at the campground it was like a reunion with a long lost love.
This year I loaded Freddie (car) and took off on a Saturday morning. Once I reached the edge of town, I inserted my CD of “An Evening with John Denver”, a tradition I began in the 1980’s when I would take my two sons camping. The music helps to mellow me out. My boys always teased me about it, but before long they were usually singing along with me as John would belt out “Grandma’s Feather Bed”.
The weather forecast was a little “iffy”, but I wasn’t going to let a threat of rain deter me. I have always driven down Highway 411 to Madisonville rather than take I-75 because I love seeing the fields and farms and because Madisonville was my mother’s home. Many summers were spent there on my grandparent’s farm tending to horses, cattle, and chickens. I always drive by the old home place…and smile. By a strange coincidence, John is singing “Take Me Home, Country Roads”.
When Madisonville is behind me, I begin looking for a familiar curve in the road because once it is rounded the mountains come into full view. The scene always gives me a lift and I stopped along the road to take a picture. Here is that scene.
Tellico Plains, Tennessee is a small town that seems to me a place that time forgot. I remember many trips here in the 1970’s where the activity level was much higher than it is now. There were a few taverns, a small grocery, and an old drugstore where we would buy our fishing permits. Those are long gone, but the old charm still remains. Personally, I would like to see it a little busier, but not much. Even though there is a bypass, I always take the old road through the center of town.
From there the road takes you to the entrance of the Cherokee National Forest and follows the Tellico River to the mountains beyond. Again, the beauty of this drive defies description, and it always takes me a while to get to the campsite because of continuous stops along the way to take pictures or enjoy the view from some of the overlooks. Today there were quite a number of fishermen wading in the stream – a few had a stringer with large fish attached.
By the time Mr. Denver cranks out “Poems, Prayers, and Promises” I am stopping at Bald River Falls to take pictures and take in this magnificent waterfall. The recent rains had added to the volume on this morning. There were many visitors with their cameras out including a sizeable motorcycle group out for a ride. Here is a photo of the falls and a few pictures of the scenery along the river.
I arrived at the McNabb Creek Campground for another Camp II experience…my 38th year as an Appalachian Angler. It was short stay but, as always, an enriching one. One day in these woods surrounded by like-minded friends is worth a thousand days in a multitude of other endeavors I can think of. I have listed some of the highlights of this trip below.
- A larger than the usual number of campers this year, including much needed younger members to keep the event going.
- Walking through the campground and shaking hands with a lot of old friends, most of them not seen since last year.
- Richard Gettys firing up his huge grill for the evening’s dinner of steak and lobster.
- A hike to the Civil War era Donley Cabin with some fellow Anglers where we met three campers from Florida and shared some information about the area to give them places to explore.
- After saying goodbye to fellow campers, making the drive over to Bald River Gorge and Holly Flats – the best campground in the Eastern United States.
- Riding in Freddie all the way up Waucheesi Mountain to the fire tower at an elevation of 3,692 feet for an unequaled panoramic view of the surrounding peaks and valleys.
- Capturing a picture of a brilliant native azalea.
- Making the annual stop at Green Cove to buy provisions for the ride home. This small grocery in the middle of the mountains is a treasure.
- Driving back along the river one more time for a second chance to view Bald River Falls.
- Singing along with Mr. Denver to “Rocky Mountain High” at the top of my lungs…and substituting “Smoky” for “Rocky” in the lyrics.
It was a great day for Easin’ Along.