Our second day in the mountains started with me picking sopping wet trash off the gravel driveway and placing it in a fresh trash bag. Apparently, we had a visitor during the night. The entire wooden container that housed two trash cans was turned over on its side. After I had cleaned up the trash, I went to flip the container up off its side, but it didn’t budge.
“Well, I guess there are bears here,” I said to the boys who had joined me outside under the heavy blanket of damp morning fog.
“Why?” one of them asked.
“Because I don’t think a raccoon could’ve flipped this thing.”
It had to pretend I was doing a squat in the gym to get the wooden box back upright. It’s nice to have my one leg day out of the way so early in the year. Unfortunately, my six-year-old had already been terrified of the prospect of bears, so this development didn’t help matters in that regard.
After lounging around, playing Roblox, and avoiding bears for much of the morning, we loaded up the car and headed down toward the Oktoberfest at Sugar Mountain. We could’ve got moving earlier to do some outdoorsing, but the darn fog put a damper on things. Or whatever. That’s as good an excuse as any. We were scheduled to meet my sister at the fest, so we were saving our energy. As we drove up and over Beech Mountain and descended toward Banner Elk and Sugar Mountain Resort, the lingering smoke-like tendrils of fog snaked their way over and around the surrounding peaks. Every time I see fog, I’m reminded of a book my mom often read to me when I was a child. It was about fog and there were lobster crates, I think? The real fog on top of the mountain was just like in the book. It made everything fuzzy and eerie.
The Oktoberfest was hopping. The top parking lot was full, so we parked in the lower lot and took the bus up the mountain. While we were waiting in line for the bus, the two guys in front of us noted our UCF jackets and asked if were from Orlando. It turned out one of them was from Titusville, my hometown.
“Oh, nice,” I said upon learning this news. We ended our short encounter at this point because it seemed like we had exhausted all our possible conversational topics. What a fun coincidence, though. And, to make it even better, none of us said “what a small world” or tried to extend the interaction beyond its natural limits. Exchange the necessary biographical information, have a nice chuckle, turn around and face the front of the line, carry on with your day. In my opinion, this is the proper protocol, and we nailed it.
Our first stop upon exiting the bus was the kids’ zone, which featured several bounce houses and a hay ride. At first glance, it looked like a fun place for the kids, but then I noticed it was fourteen dollars per child to enter, so I suggested that maybe it wasn’t that fun after all and we should probably keep walking to find the really exciting stuff.
Just around the corner, we found it. A live band and numerous adults dressed in ridiculous outfits holding mugs of beer that were as big as their silly hats. We strolled through the crowds and perused the various vendor tents. I kept a safe distance by walking down the exact center of the walkway, equidistant from the tents on either side. I avoided eye contact with any crafts people, and thus, I wasn’t contractually required to buy any bird feeders made from local wood or large mountainy chairs.
Since we had passed on the bounce houses, we felt obligated to at least try out the hay ride while we were there. It did not disappoint. We bought our tickets and scrambled right onto the flatbed trailer that was attached to a tractor. We sat around the edges of the trailer on bales of hay, of course. A gentleman fired up the tractor and we puttered off. The trip took us past many scenic views including the parking lot, trashcans, and the ski lift. We bumped along, traveling about a third of the way up before making a U-turn and heading back to where we started. It was pretty magical.
After another hour or so of crowd navigation and buying various snacks in the ski lodge, we took the big red bus back to the parking lot and headed out. We grabbed sandwiches from Subway on the way home to get a taste of the local flavor.
We were all pretty exhausted from being outside so much for two straight days, so we reverted to our normal routine of Roblox and kids’ TV shows for several hours. Just before sunset, we perked up a bit and the kids realized we hadn’t been to the firetruck playground we had read about online. We put our annoying winter clothes back on and piled into the car. We were careful to avoid any lurking bears who are probably very active at that time of day.
Fortunately, the firetruck playground was less than a mile away, down the slope. We pulled into the completely empty parking lot at the volunteer fire station. We made it just in time. I’m not sure why no one else wanted to play on the pretend fire truck in the dark on a cold, fall night, but they were missing out. The last of the soft fall light escaped through the trees as the kids had the time of their life.
The only dispute was who was going to drive the truck, but they did a reasonable job of taking turns. Well, the boys did. The youngest tends to be insistent that is always her turn. The boys pretended to respond to emergencies, leaping off and sliding down the poles on the front and back of the truck when they reached the destination. They talked back and forth on the intercom that connected the front and the back portions of the playground. Later, they climbed around on the damp, slippery rocks, fell off a lot, and generally had a grand, mountainy time. There was even a small creek beside the park with a large plank laid across it as a bridge.
Really, there was nothing more they needed. We probably could’ve stayed there for the next several years. But, alas, it was getting dark, so we had to head home.
All good things come to an end. And we had a long drive waiting for us the next day. A long, winding trip back from our mountain roots, back to our tropical, flatland existence.
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