Mirabelle Teaches Katie How To Camp

Four years of monitoring experiments that ran 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and tending to those machines like my own two children had all but crushed my ability to have fun. The anxiety and nervous anticipation that something was going to go wrong was usually accompanied by the fact that something did go wrong. And I had to fix it.

"Error on Balancing: No End Course Detected" What the hell does that even mean? It means it's 11:30 on a Saturday night, or 7 AM on a Sunday morning and I have to drive to the office so I can hit CTRL-ALT-DEL, reboot, log in, restart the software, and check to make sure everything is still alive. Benjamin Lyons: 24/7 Computer Repair, Mechanic & Microbiologist. OK machine, we good? Just don't do it again on my day off. Wait? Who ever said I got a day off? The internet follows you everywhere!

Now, perhaps I was to blame. Books like The Aladdin Factor, Ask And It Is Given, and The Secret would all say that I was manifesting these problems. By projecting a negative expectation into the universe that something should go wrong, the universe, being so generous, would make it happen. Or, perhaps it was my perception of what a problem actually is that was giving me anxiety. Yeah... perhaps? Part of me feels that could be true, but the logical scientist part chalks it up to shoddily engineered, under maintained and understaffed equipment. Isn't that such an annoying facet of the human ego to pass the blame on to someone or something else?  :)

North Georgia in late October

For my 30th birthday I wanted nothing more than a little peace and quiet to help with the burnout I was experiencing. I had recently come across FreeCampsites.net, and really wanted to see if these free places to camp were sufficient. By sufficient I mean that I wanted a flat place to put a tent and a little privacy. So, I talked Katie and Mirabelle into going on a weekend leaf-peeping adventure into northwest Georgia; the closest area to Gainesville with some semblance of mountains. We planned to camp at the Three Forks campground near an intersection of the Appalachian Trail and the Benton-MacKaye Trail off Forest Service Road 58 a bit north of Springer Mountain near the Chattahoochee National Forest.  Easy enough!

On paper this was a great plan, but as it turns out the directions on FreeCampsites.net are user submitted and can be a bit difficult to navigate. Want to know what makes it harder? Un-cached direction webpages on an iPhone in the thick of the forest with(out) AT&T 3G service makes it harder.

So, here's what we did: We drove around for a few hours listening to a pathetic Florida - Georgia game on XM Radio under overcast skies with one overly excited Mirabelle in the back of the Forester. If you remember from the first post, the Chattahoochee National Forest is about 7 hours from Gainesville. Now add in one hour of looking for Forest Service Road 58 using a screen capture of the directions from the webpage. Add in another hour for driving back and forth to the top of a hill where we had 3G reception to load Google Maps so we could see maps of Forest Service roads that Dennis (the name of our GPS in the Forester) didn't bring along. "Turn back. This is not a road. Make a U-Turn. I can't help you if you go any further. Fine, you're on your own." Hah... Finally, add in another 45 minutes looking for an unoccupied site at this bumpin' mecca of free camping in the middle of no-where. Apparently everyone else knew how to find the place but us. By now the Gators had lost. Seriously guys, six turnovers?  That's got to be Madden rule #2: Don't turn the ball over. Madden rule #1 is of course the team that scores the most points is going to win the game. By the way FreeCampsites, Forest Service Road 58 is off Doublehead Gap Road, not Aska Road. You're welcome.  

We finally found what appeared to be a camp site on a patch of ground that sloped down and away from the road towards the brook that ran parallel to the road. It definitely wasn't as easy to access as the other camp sites we had driven by, but it was suitable, sufficient I suppose. As darkness began to fall we hauled our gear down about 200 feet to the flattest part of the site that we could find. Lo and behold - a fire pit! That was going to be necessary. Again, October in north Georgia gets pretty chilly at night and the forecast was for mid 30s. We set up camp and got a nice fire going. It was cold, we were cold, Mirabelle was cold, but it was quiet, peaceful and definitely private. Oh, and the beer was also cold!

Everyone's Happy!

On this particular trip we learned a lot of things about Mirabelle. The first thing we learned, well more like Katie learned, was that Mirabelle was just fine with the cold. When we finally turned in, we had all of our sleeping gear set up and Mirabelle had her bed in the corner of the tent next to Katie. Katie, in her relentless conquest to snuggle, brought Mirabelle into her sleeping bag "to keep her warm". Clarified: to keep Katie warm. No more than an hour had passed before MB got ants in her pants. She wiggled her way out of the bag, looked at Katie and curtly said, "Too hot." She walked over to her bed, did a few circles to make sure nothing was hiding in it, and plopped down. With her ears pinned back she silently expressed, "I did not find that to be very comfortable. It was too hot, and I would appreciate never doing it again."  

In this back-country spot we had designated the bathroom to be downhill from a large boulder. So, in the morning Katie took the shovel and some TP to go "check the plumbing". You know - make sure everything in the bathroom works? Anyway, this was Katie's first experience with such a rudimentary bathroom experience, and fortunately she was quite inquisitive and rather excited about it. Not often can you tell a girl she's got to dig a hole, poop in it, and cover it back up and have her be cooperative, much less excited. I'm a lucky guy! Moreover, Mirabelle was also quite interested in the whole process. The way Katie describes it was that Mirabelle stood next to her as she went about making her deposit, with a look of, "Wait, you poop outside too?" Ohh Mirbs. I can picture the exact facial expression. There's a dog who so badly wanted to be human, but when she got the chance to incarnate on Earth, she accidentally chose dog... a choice that will haunt her forever.

Hey guys?

While this was all taking place I had restarted a fire. Shortly after, the rain put out my fire. We scrambled to get everything packed up, throwing cleanliness to the wind - something Dad would not have condoned. But after a 7 hour drive to the general vicinity, 3 hours of searching for the site, an overnight low in the mid 20s and now rain, we were done. Time to go home.

Well Dad, when we got home I cleaned out the tent and brushed off all the tarps. Put your mind at ease. :)

The lessons we learned from this journey:

  • Free campsites are good, if you can find them.
  • Don't rely on other people to give up their good spots.
  • I'd rather live close to mountains than spend 7 hours driving to them.
  • Mirabelle lives in a 20 degree bag.  
  • Katie's OK with roughing it.  
  • A bad camping experience is still better than a good day at work.  


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I so agree with both the 3rd and 6th lesson you learned...I also already knew the 5th :)

  3. Amazing what we teach through our actions...or is it DNA? sorry for any CDA (campsite departure anxiety) caused by me.

  4. 7D3B3


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