Backpacking at Big South Fork

These days, Nashville feels just a tiny bit too big for its britches.

Every week a new restaurant opens with “rustic chic” decor or “a 1950s Palm Springs vibe” or “an award-winning chef at the helm.” Old homes with promise are being torn down so developers can build brand new spaces–oftentimes two or three houses to a single lot. The church across the street from our house went under.

Let me repeat that: The church went under. Unable to hang on to the building (thank you, skyrocketing property taxes), the congregation opted to move, leaving a large, empty building on the corner of Riverside and Porter Road, just waiting for a developer to strike it big on the future commercial space.

All of the building and noise has left me reeling. Is this where we want to live is the sentiment that seems to drive every conversation I have between friends and colleagues and–most importantly–Daniel.

This overwhelming feeling of change in my life that I don’t really want (and the noise, noise, noise) is what drove Daniel and I into the woods on Fourth of July weekend with our good friend, Adam, and our now 50-pound puppy, Rust, along for the ride. I needed to get out. 

And so we did. Off to Big South Fork River on Independence Day, we found a good trail and ended up hiking four miles or so to the most picturesque campsite I could imagine. A sandy shoreline on the river near a rocky section of the stream, enough trees for shade, a few logs for seating, and the perfect flat space to build a fire.

Our evening was perfect. My Dan fished off of the riverbank and caught a few trout for dinner. Adam and I hung out, started a fire, and enjoyed some moments of peace and quiet. As it grew dark, we worked together to create a fantastic meal: trout with lemon juice, lentil stew over couscous, and a little red wine (worth the extra pack weight). Everything tastes better outside. That is a cliche because it is true.

After dinner, we retreated to our tents, and I laid next to my husband and our dog, staring at the stars for a long time. Back in Nashville, my friends were drinking beers and watching fireworks. Half-constructed condo buildings and giant houses loomed in every neighborhood. And I felt utterly thankful to have a break from all of that noise.

Now, sleep didn’t come easy. I’m pretty sure all of us woke up every 15 minutes worrying about bears. Rust stirred every time he heard a breeze or a crack in the woods. By sunrise, we were all wide awake, waiting for the others to stir and put the coffee on. Eventually, Daniel bit the bullet and climbed out of his sleeping bag into the 50-degree morning. We made a few cups of coffee and some oatmeal and chatted by the fire for about an hour until it felt like time to pack up. Nobody wanted to be hiking in the heat of the afternoon, so we got back on the trail around 10 for the 3-hour hike back to the car.

The funny thing about this trip was that, on the surface, it shouldn’t be special. We hiked into the woods and spent the night there. Then we left. But to me, it was a huge deal. I’ve never thought of myself as “outdoorsy” because I don’t have the right gear or the right language or the right skills. But I just love being in the woods, and this trip allowed me to be in the outdoors without feeling self-conscious about it. At the risk of sounding ridiculous, I can sum up my first backpacking trip with what I said to my husband when we got home and showered:

“When I’m away from everything, in the middle of the woods without any cell phone service or expectations, I feel like I know who I am. I know who I want to be. That’s why I need to go back.”